While I was serving as the pastor of CrossHope Chapel for 12-years, I was frequently called “Pastor” and even referred to myself as “Pastor.” Why? Because that was my role and the title my church used to address that and respectfully recognize that.
The use of the word “Pastor” was a title for my role. Now biblically speaking the word is meant more as a spiritual gift one might have than a title of a role that one might do. We see this when we read Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”
The word “pastor” is Latin for shepherd, which the King James Version translators choose to use the word pastor instead of shepherd, though the image of a shepherd is exactly what the gift describes.
Titles are not a bad thing and in our society they hold a very important place in our relationships. Titles are ways we give respect, and titles for clergy are ways to respect them, too.
Now that my role as pastor has ceased since the closing of CrossHope Chapel, I have stopped using the term of myself, although I occasionally still get referred to by others as Pastor.
Now that my primary ministry role is a hospital chaplain, I do in that context refer to myself as Chaplain because it quickly identifies my role and purpose when I am on duty at the hospital, but not outside the hospital.
All this discovery regarding my use of a title in this transition from full-time pastor to full-time chaplain has got me reflecting on ministerial titles. So here, I am going to share some thoughts on this subject.
Let me share some thoughts on the term Reverend. If you have noticed, I have been using the term for myself again because it denotes a title for a role that I cannot set aside. I am an ordained minister, committed to ministry and the theology of ministry that I am ordained to.
The use of the title Reverend has always been a bit uncomfortable for me because I know that there is nothing reverent about me. Psalm 111:9 says of the Lord that “holy and reverend is his name.” Who wouldn’t agree with the psalmist that the Lord is reverent and who wouldn’t agree with me that mere mortal men are not reverent?
The fact is that in our society the title Reverend is recognized as a respectable recognition of a man or women who has committed themselves to their oath and role as clergymen.
Let me share some thoughts on the term Father. This is a title almost exclusively used in the Roman Catholic church of its priests. Matthew 23:9 is often cited as reason to avoid calling a priest Father, which says, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”
I will admit that there was a time in my early Christian faith that I read this verse and considered it a clear prohibition against using the title Father when addressing a Roman Catholic priest. However, as I began to consider the context and the application Jesus intended, it became clear to me that the lesson is not to tag the authoritative level of God to the ability of a man.
If it is a statement against calling someone Father, we have to ask what in the world then are we to call our male parent? I’ve heard it said that Jesus was talking about a spiritual father not family father, but the Apostle Paul referred to himself as a spiritual father to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:15.
In commenting on this topic and the larger context of Matthew 23:8-10, John MacArthur points out that Jesus was speaking against “undue spiritual authority to a human being, as if he were the source of truth rather than God.”
So, I have come to the conclusion that using the terms Reverend, Father, or Pastor to address clergy are not specifically opposed by the Bible but pride, pretense, and ostentatious use of titles seem to be.